Sometimes there are people you meet that stick with you. Well, Beverly Stewart wasn’t just one of those people; she was the kind of person that became a part of you.
She was my voice teacher in high school and you wouldn’t think I would be taking this so hard, unless you knew her. You see, she passed away yesterday. I saw the news on Facebook and couldn’t process it. That was surprising for me since I knew she had been sick for a number of years now. Today I saw others post about their grief so now I’m facing my own sense of loss.
Bev was incredible. A soul that brought out the best in everyone. It’s strange because I feel as though I have lost a part of myself. Not because I actually have, but because she represented a part of myself that I have always clung onto. Singing on stage was a thrill, a rush of happiness for me that can’t be measured. She made me feel like I had natural talent. She made me better. She made me understand that I had to trust myself and believe in myself. It was her believing in me that made it easy to think that I was worth more.
You see, in high school, self worth was a hard thing to come by, for me. It might come as a surprise to some, but it’s true. Singing was pretty much the one thing that I felt I would ever be good at. When I started taking lessons from Bev it was like a whole new world opened up for me. Suddenly, I saw my life unfold before me. She trained me and helped me get the lead role of Reno Sweeny in my high school musical, Anything Goes, as a Sophomore. It was the most exciting thing I had ever accomplished. That would be the last big part I ever had in a school production, but it didn’t stop her from making me feel my dreams could come true.
She even called my mom once, just to tell her that I could “go far”. That I had true natural talent and all I needed to do was cultivate it and work hard. It’s something that I will never forget and have held onto all these years like a fragile secret. I was a teenager then, and it was easier to think I wasn’t very talented after a run in with another teacher and only making the chorus after Anything Goes. So I hate to say it, but I haven’t performed since graduating. It’s sad for me. However, that experience made a profound difference in my life. For so many years I held onto the words they both said. It took years before I let go of the negative and have only held onto the positive. Bev made that possible for me. And when it really mattered, I was able to get past the bad things that happen in life, as they always do. So, I am grateful for that lesson, too.
I’m lucky, really, years ago I wrote Bev a letter thanking her for her profound influence in my life. Later, I was able to connect with her on Facebook and we discussed the letter. She said she wrote back but the letter was returned to her. I was afraid she wouldn’t remember me, but she assured me that wasn’t possible. I was able to reiterate how she’s been the most influential person in my life and she told me she was “deeply touched” I remembered her so fondly. It surely didn’t feel like 15 years had gone by since our last meeting, even though it had.
A few years later I was encouraged to come visit her before her health declined too much from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Since I live across the country from her I was unable to do so. Which made our reconnection in 2009 a blessing.
From now on I will think of her when I listen to Les Mis, The Secret Garden, Pippin…to name a few. When I trim the Christmas tree with all the ornaments I received from her over the years. Listen to the vocalization tape (yes, that means a cassette and I still have it) she made for me. And enjoy all the other gifts she bestowed upon me. I can only hope that my years of being trained by her has taught me how to be such an inspiration. Her lovable yet stern teaching ways were sharp as a tack and some of the most cherished memories I have from those formative years. Her warmth and beauty will live on, along with her own wonderful voice.
Thank you, Bev, you made me a better human.
Beverly Jean Stewart: October 10, 1934 – November 30, 2015